Thursday, August 21, 2008

CIS Countdown #20: University of Calgary Dinos

Fast facts:
- Return from extinction: Last year was the first season in three years where the Dinos made the playoffs, but they lost in the conference semi-final, 27-5 to the eventual Vanier Cup champion Manitoba Bisons.
- Prehistoric strength: Calgary has struggled somewhat in recent years, but they still sit atop the all-time Canada West conference standings with 178 wins and 134 losses since 1968, a .570 winning percentage. Their closest rival in both wins and winning percentage is Saskatchewan, with 162 wins and 151 losses for a .517 mark.
- Two-headed dinosaur: Much of Calgary's success last season came from their double-pronged rushing attack. Canada West all-star and second-team all-Canadian Anthony Woodson was the featured back, and he recorded the second-most rushing yards in CIS competition (1183 yards on 177 carries, a 6.68 yards per carry average), behind only Bishop's star and Hec Creighton nominee Jamall Lee. He also ran for six touchdowns. However, Matt Walter, who was named the Canada West rookie of the year, provided a great second option: he finished 10th in CIS competition in rushing yards (702 yards on 79 carries, for an astounding 8.89 average per carry that was the best of any CIS player) and also scored seven touchdowns. Walter is entering his second year of eligibility, while Woodson is entering his third, so both should be cornerstones of the Dino offence for a while.
- Bucking the trend: The Dinos were 4-4 in the regular season last year, but their point differential per game was a pretty impressive 6.8, meaning they averaged almost 7 more points per game than their opponents. They put up two huge wins over SFU (54-3 and 52-14), a reasonably convincing victory over UBC (41-23) and a narrow 20-19 win over Saskatchewan. Most of their losses were fairly close, except for a 42-17 thumping by Regina. That differential strongly goes against their trend, as they've been outscored by an average of six points over the last three seasons, even including last year's positive differential. The return to the playoffs and improved point differential last season may mean that things are looking up for Calgary.

Coach: Blake Nill. Nill is entering his third year with the Dinos. He previously spent eight years at the helm with the Saint Mary's Huskies, and led them to two Vanier Cups and two more Vanier appearances, as well as six conference championships. During his time with Saint Mary's, Nill was named the CIS Coach of the Year. He also was awarded the AUS Coach of the Year title four consecutive times. Before taking the reins at Saint Mary's, Nill played in the CFL with Montreal, Hamilton and Winnnipeg.

Co-ordinators: Defensive co-ordinator John Stevens and offensive co-ordinator Greg Vavra are both back from last year. The Dinos did lose assistant offensive co-ordinator and special teams co-ordinator Greg DeLaval, though: he's now the interim head coach at U of T. Pierre Lefebvre is the new special teams guru for the Dinos.

Enrolment: 22,556 undergrads, 5640 graduate students (according to Wikipedia).

Alumni in the CFL: Calgary has three alumni currently playing in the CFL, which is tied with Alberta for the lowest number in Canada West. Those alumni are Edmonton linebacker Agustin Barrenechea, Calgary offensive lineman Tim O'Neill and Toronto offensive lineman Mark DeWit. O'Neill and DeWit played with the Dinos last season. And, of course, Dan Federkeil is an offensive guard with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

Famous non-football alumni: Stephen Harper, Prime Minister; James Gosling, inventor of Java (the programming language, not the coffee); Robert Thirsk, astronaut.

Three-year record: 8-16, a .333 winning percentage. They were 2-6 in both 2005 and 2006, and 4-4 last season.

2007 unit rankings: Seventh in offence, where they scored an average 29.3 points per game, 24.8 per cent higher than the league average. They were 14th in defence, though, where they conceded an average of 22.5 points per game. That was still four per cent lower than the league average.

Key losses: Calgary loses three out of their five offensive line starters, which may hurt their dominant running game. In addition to the departures of O'Neill and Dewit for the CFL, the Dinos lose left tackle David Maltman to graduation. The receiving corps will also take a bit of a hit with the departure of slotback Drew Hogan and wide receiver Adam Bunz. Bunz is a particularly big loss, as he was second on the Dinos in receiving yards last year (233 yards on just 14 receptions over five games, a very impressive 15.93 yards per catch average). The team also loses some key defensive players, including defensive lineman Tim Burris and defensive back Curtis Woodley.

Returning starters: Woodson and Walter will be key components of the Dinos' offense this year, but so will right guard Reed Alexander and right tackle Dylan Steenbergen, the only two starting offensive linemen returning from last year's team. Veterans Lindsay Stevens, Chris Vail, and Alex Krausnick-Groh are expected to step in on the line, but they weren't starters last year, so Alexander and Steenbergen will have to lead by example. Also on offense, star receiver Nathan Coehoorn is back. Coehoorn had 30 catches for 417 yards last season, and was tops in both categories for the Dinos.

On defence, most of the Dinos' starters are returning, including fifth-year veterans Josh MacDonald (a defensive lineman) and Jon Waldie (a defensive back who was named a conference all-star last season). Last season's tackles leader, linebacker Chase Moore, is also back, along with halfback Matt Grohn , the team interceptions leader, and safety James Green, who put up three sacks and 41 tackles last year.

Players to watch: The battle for the quarterbacking spot will be interesting to observe. Casey Brown was supposed to start last year, but tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus in a pre-season game against Alberta, missing the rest of the year. He's done his rehab and is ready to go, but he comes into camp behind Jordan Flagel, who took over for him last year and turned in an impressive performance. New recruit Brett Serhyenko, junior football transfer Deke Junior and sophomore Clayton Masikewich are also in the mix, but at the moment, it looks like Flagel and Brown will be number-one and number-two respectively. Rita Mingo has an excellent piece on the quarterbacking situation in the Calgary Herald.

For future reference: Watch out for Matt Little and K.C. Prince, two promising receivers who missed all of last season due to injuries. Some rookies may make an impact as well, including Carson Rockhill. Rockhill, the younger brother of Dinos' defensive lineman Brandon Rockhill, is a 6-6, 275-pound highly-touted lineman who can play on offence or defence. Another key offensive line recruit is Kirby Fabien, a blue-chip prospect who may challenge for a starting spot.

Schedule (swing games in bold):
Aug. 23 vs Regina (neutral site exhibition, in Medicine Hat)
Aug. 29 at Saskatchewan
Sept. 6 vs. Manitoba
Sept. 13 vs. Alberta
Sept. 20 at SFU
Sept. 27 vs. UBC
Oct. 11 vs. Regina
Oct. 18 at Manitoba
Oct. 25 at Alberta

The Dinos have a tough start, with an away game against always-dangerous Saskatchewan and then a home opener against the defending Vanier Cup champions. They only get to play SFU once this year instead of twice, so their playoff fortunes will likely be determined by the outcome of their games against Alberta and UBC. They beat UBC last year, but lost to U of A.

Final analysis: The Dinos made a huge improvement last year: the question now is if they can sustain that improvement with a tougher schedule. The key to their success will likely be their running game, but we'll have to see how much of a role their former stars on the offensive line played. If Woodson and Walter can repeat their success with less experienced linemen blocking for them, the Dinos could have another solid year.

Prediction: 4-4, with wins over Alberta (twice), UBC and SFU.

Contributors to this preview: Rob Pettapiece, Duane Rollins, University of Calgary Sports Information Director Ben Matchett (his preview is here).

No comments: